Tours

Each of our guided tours has been designed to maximize your exposure to Grand Rapids’ most interesting and beautiful sights. Our tour ambassadors are chock-full of fascinating facts that will distract you from the workout your muscles are getting on the rolling hills of the Grand River valley.  You choose the best way to explore the sights of downtown Grand Rapids…Run. Walk. Ride.

We offer a multitude of year-round tours as well as a changing array of seasonal tours that highlight different aspects of Grand Rapids.

Please select a thematically organized tour from the menu below.  All tours can be run or walked.

America’s Furniture City

Over the course of 60 short years, small family-owned furniture shops grew into large-scale furniture manufacturers, earning Grand Rapids the title of Furniture City, America’s Furniture Capital, and The Paris of Furniture Design. Learn as you move through downtown and pass the intriguing remnants of the residential furniture glory years: 1870 – 1930. Discover why “timing was everything” when our tiny frontier city was able to capture the world’s attention and furniture making dominated the economic landscape of Grand Rapids. We will also go by places that connect the dots to today’s thriving office furniture industry.

Art Dart

See why Grand Rapids is hailed as one of America’s most creative cities! We’ll move through the city center in hunt of 25 significant artworks, including the 42-ton Alexander Calder sculpture that symbolizes the city’s innovative spirit. Also on the tour: two art museums, an art & design school and the headquarters of ArtPrize, a revolutionary art competition ranked as one of the world’s top five festivals by Time Magazine. You’ll find the activity physically and artistically invigorating.

Art Dart: ART PRIZE EDITION (Late September – Early October)

What a glorious feast for the senses! See the amazing displays, smell the crisp fall air, hear the musical presentations, and let your feet touch the sidewalks as you move through a bustling downtown. You’ll get a glimpse of the 1,500+ works of art that line downtown streets, parks and pubs as part of the world’s richest art competition. Top 40? Top 20? The winner? Let us guide you through both permanent outdoor sculptures and popular downtown ArtPrize entries.

City Sights

This roving tour of downtown Grand Rapids is designed for passengers in a vehicle. Relax in the comfort of your organization’s bus with nary a concern for iffy weather and sore feet. A lively guide will step on your bus and verbally walk you through a historical, cultural, and current events primer of “everything Grand Rapids”. Moving through most of 8 distinct destination neighborhoods, each with their own quirky personalities, the tour ambassador will narrate points that “you want to know”, not what “you need to know”. Opportunity to step-off to learn more about key sights and beautiful vistas of River City will be provided.

Distillery Dash

Not including pre-prohibition history, Grand Rapids has been a mecca for craft beer lovers for around 20 years now, beckoning beer drinkers from ‘round the world to BEER CITY, USA. Locally, we’re spoiled…connoisseurs of the amber fluid. The breweries have fine-tuned our palettes AND bolstered our local entertainment industry immeasurably. Now, the spotlight turns from brew culture to spirits culture. This tour, the Distillery Dash, celebrates the “other” beverage industry. This is a hooch hike! We are rum runners! It is, proudly, a showcase-on-foot of local Grand Rapids distilled liquor makers.

Every Building Tells a Story: The Architecture of Downtown Grand Rapids…Parts One & Two

We invent cities. We create streets and we construct buildings. Whether the structures are historic, brand new, a combination of both, or a glimpse into our future, they provide a creative portrayal of our collective story of our “place”, our built environment. No one architectural style is more intelligent or artistic or important than another…they are all invaluable pages in our city’s scrapbook. This IS Grand Rapids. The buildings belong to all of us…they are our common view, our Cityscape. And each one tells a story as we physically move through time. Part One includes buildings prior to Urban Renewal, and Part Two is the 1960’s forward and into our architectural future. This topic is also available as a presentation with media support.

Firehouse Fun

We’re hot to trot on this sizzlin’ route. Envision early Grand Rapids…streets lined with wooden buildings, illuminated by candles or oil lamps and heated with wood stoves. Fires were dangerously commonplace. Fire protection consisted mainly of a few fire buckets and as many hands as possible. The makeshift fire brigade gave way to 10 majestic Firehouses in Grand Rapids by the year 1910. Some of these are still standing, a couple are still operating, and others are long gone. Find out which ones are which on this jaunt through downtown.

Fulton Street Graveyard (Offered all year, but most enjoyable in October – day or night)

175+ years ago, in 1838, the new village of Grand Rapids opened their first public graveyard – just 12 years after the arrival of Louis Campau, the first non-Native American to settle along the Grand River at the rapids Situated at the eastern boundary of the village – it was purposely located well away from the center of settlement. As the first and the oldest graveyard in Grand Rapids history, these humble monuments and graves commemorate fascinating lives of first generation G-Rap colonists. Aren’t you just dying to know WHO? Enjoy a dramatic narrative while we wander through this quiet place of remembrance. Hop aboard the time machine… and see where original pioneer settlers of Grand Rapids lay in rest.

Grand Bridges

The city of Grand Rapids was born alongside a one mile stretch of spectacular rapids on our Grand River, the Owashtanong (meaning Far-away-water, because of its length). The pure, rushing waterway was absolutely integral to GR’s explosive growth in the 19th century, especially after bridges were built to connect the east and west banks. Today, eight bridges, not counting highway bridges, carry vehicle traffic between the Wealthy Street Bridge and the North Park Bridge. There are also six railroad bridges; 2 are still in use, 2 are pedestrian and 2 are rails-to-trails. Enjoy criss-crossing the historic spans as we weave our way from the south to north and back again on a section of the longest river in the state of Michigan. Breathtaking for its beauty and exercise, this route is a must-experience for urban bridge and river aficionados. Along the way, catch nostalgic glimpses of times gone by – the river of history – and appreciate its irrepressible flow into the future.

Grand Rapids’ Most Haunted (Offered all year, but most enjoyable on October evenings)

Do you believe in ghosts, ghouls, poltergeists, apparitions, phantoms, spooks, psychic phenomena or things that go “bump” in the night? If one person sees a ghost, even if several times, you may blame it on an active imagination; but if two or more people see the same spirit in the same place several years apart, you may just frightfully reconsider. This spine-tingling tour takes you by ten downtown iconic locations where there have been waaaay MORE than just two sightings or unusual activity. There are two questions that we attempt to answer on this spooky journey: Who suffered a tragic death here and is still hanging around? Is this LEGEND or REAL?

Greener Grand Rapids

Sustainability is a priority for Grand Rapids. We’ve earned worldwide attention, recognition and respect for our Green efforts. Named “America’s Greenest City” by Fast Company magazine, Grand Rapids continues to be noticed for its “LEEDership” in sustainable efforts. Our City Commission defines sustainability as “living today without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to live equally as well, or better.” Grand Rapids is blessed with abundant natural resources, and we are committed to protecting and preserving this very special environment. Join us on a walk or run through our clean, forward-thinking metropolis. Be greenspired!

Heritage Hill Architectural

If you want to time travel – and step back into an era of graceful, elegant living and imagine life as an heiress to a furniture company fortune – then join us on Heritage Hill. Located immediately east of downtown Grand Rapids, this is the city’s oldest residential district and Michigan’s largest and finest concentration of nineteenth and early twentieth-century houses. Over 50 architectural styles are represented in one of the largest urban historic districts in the U.S. We stop at 14 of the 1,300 homes that date from 1843. These were the homes of mayors, bankers, attorneys, company owners, lumber barons, doctors, judges, and clothiers who shaped the city’s future. This was where the upper crust lived…on “the hill”.

Honoring Diversity

Historically, a myriad of cultural influences shaped our city then – and are what make Grand Rapids unique today. We are home to people of every race, color, religion, lifestyle, gender, age, marital status, handicap, socio-economic status and national origin. Each group has indelibly contributed to the evolution of individual neighborhoods, the whole city, and this West Michigan region. Today, our living kaleidoscope is a vibrant, intensely colorful and rich community that thrives upon collaboration while honoring diversity. Run or walk through this local anthropological timeline with us; we respect the past and look forward to future cultural shifts. What will they be?

Lady Legends

The number of organizations or causes that were founded or inspired by a woman or a group of women in Grand Rapids history, recent and long, is staggering. Most of these institutions
continue to operate today and have touched the lives of countless citizens through the years. As a community, we are grateful for these women and their vision, leadership and incredible stamina. Grand Rapids is progressive in many ways, and the story of Lady Legends is just one more example. We celebrate 17 noteworthy sights that originated with women.

Lapping the Landmarks

An absolute “must-do” for visitors, new residents and longtime citizens who want a new perspective on our fair city! We’ll cruise by Campau Square, named after the founding father of Grand Rapids, on our way to explore some of the city’s “first and finest” including historic sites, museums, colleges, restaurants, hotels, bridges, churches, the Medical Mile, the Grand River and more…all neatly contained in a downtown loop.

Market to Market Morning 10K (May – December)

A delightful journey through Grand Rapids with a spotlight on fresh food…”farm to foot”. The tour begins downtown and meanders east and slightly uphill through the Heartside, Heritage Hill and Midtown neighborhoods before arriving at the city’s oldest farm market – the Fulton Street Market – bustling with shoppers & delectables. Onward through East Town and down the Wealthy Street corridor to the newest food marvel in town – the Downtown Market – alive with epicureans and local mouth-watering treats. Take a peek inside at the 20+ vendors before heading back to the JW Marriott. A great workout to rev your engine and appetite.

Monroe North Neighborhood

Come explore and gain a new perspective of the historic North Monroe Neighborhood, one of the 32 neighborhood associations in Grand Rapids. What was once an industrial part of Furniture City is now one of the most exciting and energetic places to live. A lively guide will lead you on a journey through yesterday and give a glimpse into tomorrow. Hug the Mayor’s tree, climb 100+ stairs, witness the greatest view of the city, do a cartwheel in the park, run downhill, watch jumping fish and dip your toes into the mighty Grand River. All of that in an adventurous and wacky loop, chock full of interesting trivia and sights.

Steeple Chase

Learn why Grand Rapids has been called “The City of Churches” on this pulse-pounding tour of religious landmarks. We’ll pass by churches that date back to 1848 and see multiple architectural styles, soaring spires, expertly crafted stone & brickwork, Tiffany windows and more. Along the way, you’ll discover the historical importance and contemporary relevance of faith in Grand Rapids.

String of Pearls

There are so many unusual and interesting sights and noteworthy Grand Rapids landmarks that do not fit neatly into an existing “themed” tour. So, we string them together in this invaluable tour of gems and jewels – and call it a String of Pearls. From historically significant buildings to an amazing astronomical post, earliest millstone, colonial horse trough, and a century-old American Elm tree, we will astonish you with 30 brilliant “pearls”. What a treasure!

The Tale of Beer City USA

“In Grand Rapids, the German-born immigrants began arriving in the 1840’s, and within a decade, they were one of the city’s largest immigrant groups. This increased the local demand
for beer and the need for more breweries and brewmasters.” This is the beginning of the Tale of Beer City USA…as told to participants and seen through the lenses of beer-colored glasses. In the narrative of this fun and fascinating tour, you will learn about the history of the beer brewing industry in Grand Rapids, its demise and its comeback that earned Grand Rapids the “Beer City” title. You will be so captivated by the story, that your feet won’t even know they are moving.

Twinklin’ Holiday Lights (December evenings)

Are you feeling festive, fun, and frisky? Come dressed in your finest holiday running sweater or tutu or tights as we celebrate the holiday season together. Experience downtown Grand Rapids bejeweled and illuminated with both contemporary and nostalgic lighting displays. The group will trot by at least nine uniquely special places, some of which will evoke warm feelings from Christmas’s past. And as a gesture of community kindness, we will give vouchers for meals at Dégagé Ministries for those we pass who may be in need.

Valent-ICE Sculptures (Offered only during Snow Days in February)

Grand Rapidians believe that winter is a season to be LOVED, celebrated and enjoyed outside, so DowntownGrandRapidsInc organizes SNOW DAYS each February during Valentine’s Day… a five-day festival of frozen fun. This annual icy extravaganza includes ice skating, sledding, skiing, snowboarding, ice games like Human Hungry Hungry Hippo and Valent-ICE sculptures. The magnificent ice statues are created by The Food Network and local champion ice carvers and business owners, Randy Finch and Derek Maxfield. Over 50 incredible, unique sculptures are on display downtown during the festival…some life-size, some interactive, all lighted and the selection is different each year. Bundle up, then walk or run with your GRRT guide to learn more about sub-zero art and the intriguing back stories.

Young President Ford

Grand Rapids’ favorite son – Gerald R. Ford – the 38th President of the US, is buried here, beside his wife, Betty, but he was not born here. In fact, he was not named Gerald R. Ford at birth. This tour will tell the tale of our humble civil servant as you visit actual places touched by “Junior” during his All-American youth – 1913 through 1931 – in old Grand Rapids. Experience an invigorating workout and an inspirational story of a young man who was raised in this great midwestern city to become a world leader. You will learn where he lived, played, worshipped, studied, and competed athletically. As a final stop, you will observe Gerald Ford’s tomb, then salute his statue in front of the Presidential Museum and his last working office.